Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mystery of the ACC Grant of Rights

Coercion - the practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats.

There's a riddle I'm trying to solve. A mystery that could lead to another piece in the college football expansion puzzle clicking into place.

Ask the right person the right question and doors open to new pieces of the puzzle. Sometimes the best leads are throwaway statements that seem innocuous at the time but take on greater meaning after review and reflection.

Last week a reputable source associated with a Big Ten school used the word "coercion" when asked why ACC schools signed a grant of rights.

At the time the importance of the word "coercion" didn't completely register. I was trying to determine the exact "weakness" the Big Ten had reportedly identified in the ACC's grant of rights and not having much luck cracking that particular buckeye. He wouldn't volunteer information except for the fact that the Big Ten was waiting for the ACC's exit feel to be ruled punitive.

I questioned him relentlessly throwing out theory after theory. He refused to comment until I finally said the only difference between the Big 12's grant of rights and the ACC's grant of rights was that ACC schools didn't get anything in return.

Finally I had hit on the right combination and he opened up. The Big Ten thought the ACC's grant of rights could be successfully challenged because the ACC member institutions didn't receive any consideration (money) for their rights.

That's when he said an ACC member  had said they were coerced into signing the grant of rights.

 Coerced? Really?

How could the ACC or any conference coerce members into signing a contract that transfers their television broadcast rights for nothing? I don't understand how that could occur.

Of course that opened up a different line of questioning. So far all the questions are unanswered and all I can do is guess.

My first thought was that FSU was coerced and once the Seminoles were onboard all the others fell into place. Plausible? Certainly. If FSU was coerced what was the hammer the ACC used to nail them down?

Less likely but still plausible was that FSU and the ACC coerced Virginia into signing the grant of rights.

Why do I think that?  Mostly because of the assurances about UVA and the Cavaliers interest in the Big Ten and Eric Barron's stated love for the ACC.

The above is just a theory so please don't take it out of context.

There are no answers - only more questions.

I don't have many contacts in the ACC so I need help in figuring this out. Did the ACC coerce its members into signing the grant of rights without consideration? If so how did they coerce them?

I'm not even certain ACC schools were coerced.  Did they receive anything but promises and intangibles like "security"?

Anyone out there reading this with information and willing to answer some questions please email me at Unless you tell me otherwise everything you share will be off the record.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Expansion Update

None of what you are hearing on Twitter about Texas or the Big 12 expanding is true. Some of what you are reading has at least a partial basis in fact, but most of the chatter is just recycled rumors recited over and over again until they take on a life of their own.

In early October the Big 12 thought it might be forced to expand in order to have a conference championship game. Their expansion committee reviewed financials submitted by Cincinnati, UCF, USF and UCONN.

Fox and ESPN were part of the appraisal and they decided that none of the candidates offered enough value for consideration without impetus from the playoff committee.

That’s not an insult to the programs mentioned. None of them having been playing FBS football for that long and none of them have the track record of success the Big 12’s unique requirements demand - at least not now.

The Big 12 decided to table the idea of expansion until they know, for certain, the exact formula the playoff committee will use. They have been told their lack of a conference championship game will not hurt them, but until the exact formula is revealed they can’t be sure. They should know sometime over the summer.

Why wait? Isn't money the motivation for everything expansion related?

If the Big XII expands with any AAC school they take a pay cut and none of the Big 12 schools are willing to see their revenues reduced unless they have no other choice.
Again that’s not a slight to Cincinnati, UCF or USF. That’s the reality of the last ten years of television ratings for each school.

I understand the huge demographic market area of Ohio and Florida. I covet the deep recruiting base of both states for the Big XII but the conference doesn’t need untapped television markets.

They don’t have a conference-wide network to monetize additions for market share alone. They can't justify expansion with carriage or affiliation fees. They need big time programs with a history of winning. They need marquee match-ups for primetime that generate Nielsen ratings to justify advertising dollars.

Here’s the problem for the expansion candidates: without using market size as a factor the value of school’s football program is hard to quantify. TV ratings, merchandising, licensing, ticket sales, win-loss percentage and bowl performance become even more important and those factors are quantified over decades not years.

Expansion for the Big XII is only justified if programs with a national reputation that appeal to national television audiences are added. They need name recognition in a program, not demographics, and none of the available candidates has the cachet necessary to punch their ticket into the Big XII.

At least none that are on the East coast. BYU fits the bill on most counts in terms of program prestige, but the Cougars are reluctant to give up their own deal with ESPN especially when it means they can keep Sundays sacred.

The other candidates are all deserving programs but none pass the Big XII’s litmus test.

Add BYU, Cincinnati, UCF, USF, UCONN or Boise State and the revenues go down and that’s a deal-breaker right now for the Big XII.

Expansion is a dead issue… unless the playoff committee decides a conference championship game is weighted in the formula used to select playoff teams. If that happens the Big XII would expand to at least 12 by adding Cincinnati and BYU or UCF.

How likely is that scenario? Not very, according to those in the Big XII. They have been told they will not be penalized for their lack of a championship game.

Is all hope lost  for Cincinnati, UCF, USF, UCONN and BYU? No. The exact formula the playoff committee will use hasn’t been finalized.  If a weighted conference championship game makes it into the formula the Big 12 will move quickly to get to 12.

Remember the review the Big XII did of candidates back in early October I mentioned earlier? A lot of the rumors floating around Twitter and message boards come from those evaluations. People hear that a few schools submitted paperwork and jump to conclusions.

Here's a confession: back when WVU submitted paperwork to the SEC I jumped to conclusions too. I assumed that a school wouldn't submit financial documents to conference unless it had been accepted. 

I didn't have a full understanding of the process then but I know now the submission of financials is just the first step.

 The process is officially called "due diligence" and it's not a rubber-stamp. Factors are included in the submissions like budgets for individual sports and projects on facilities upgrades and such. They also contain information like ticket sales, merchandizing and contributions that are vitally important to the appraisal.

These documents are complex and many people within the schools are needed to compile all the information that's needed. The people who help assemble the packets obviously know what they are for and human nature takes over.

The problem is they only know about the submission.

The fact is that when a school is told no or “not now” it’s kept very quiet. In many cases only the president and athletic director know the outcome.  And the people who helped prepare the documents -- all they know is their school applied to the Big 12 and everyone knows you don't apply unless you know you will be accepted. So they naturally jump to the conclusion that submission means acceptance and that's how rumors are born. 

The other factor is the real unhappiness at Texas. There is a small, but very vocal faction, of Texas boosters who are jealous of the publicity that Texas A&M is receiving. They blame the Big 12 for the Longhorn's recent woes. Fortunately there are those at Texas who understand the real problem is an aging coach who has lost touch with the kids he must recruit.

Yes Texas had discussions with the Big Ten earlier this season. Both evaluated the grant of rights and decided it could not be circumvented and ended their discussions. 

I’m aware of the rumors that Big Ten lawyers think they have found an out for Texas. The Big Ten may have identified a weakness in the Big 12’s grant of rights. That’s unlikely. The grant of rights signed individually by all ten members of the conference is a simple legal instrument that relies on case law for its weight.

The very nature of its simplicity leads to divergent theories on circumventing it, but the undeniable fact is the any legal battle over the grant of rights is almost certain to take longer than 12 years.

The other certainty over any potential legal battle: the court would enforce the rights holder’s claim until complete adjudication.

The risk is just too high for the Big Ten. They could challenge the grant of rights, incur huge legal fees and lose and all the while the Big 12 would retain the rights to broadcast Texas sports and the money derived  from those rights. 

The Big 12 would not settle. Six current members would be fighting for their conference and their seat at the table. They would not disband for the same reason.  Jim Delany knows it would be a fight to the death.

The other rumor about the Big Ten: the one that says the Delany is still watching the outcome of the Maryland suit very closely - keep on eye on that one. I haven’t been able to verify it yet but on the surface that one has teeth.

On Luck and Texas

The first thing I did when I learned that Steve Petersen had been hired to replace Deloss Dodds as athletic director at Texas was to call my good friend Yancey Stubbs.

Yancey is hard a hard one to reach. He prefers a simple life uncluttered by the  dehumanizing intrusion of electronics. No cell phones, no computers, no modern luxuries to distract his thoughts with beeps, whistles or other artificial demands for attention.

He relishes  the peace of a quiet that  promotes contemplative thought and guards his environment against the most annoying conventions of modernity to the point that the only connection he has to the outside world is a single wall-mounted phone in the kitchen.

The phone is old school. A monstrous black thing that rings with a satisfying  "brrrrnnnggg" that rambles through the old farmhouse rattling windows as it sounds the alarm.

He answers the phone on the eighth ring with his characteristic " what fresh hell is this?"

"Dorthy Parker be damned" I say.

"Watch your tongue! She was a lady" he retorts.

With our customary greeting concluded I am free to get down to business.

"Luck didn't get the job."

Silence. Only the white noise of a bad landline connection crackling in my ear tells me the call is still active.

"Is that so" he finally says.

“Thoughts?” I inquire.

Again the line goes silent. Yancey Stubbs is a thoughtful man prone to extended silences as he carefully considers his words. Most find this habit disturbing. I do not. I envy his ability to think before he speaks. 

“Maybe we just misread the situation.” He suggests.

Yancey had a point. Maybe we did all just misread the situation. Could it be possible that our opinion of Oliver Luck is somehow jaundiced?

“Not likely we misread the situation that badly.” Yancey continued.

“I mean there was so much smoke around Luck and Texas it was like the entire state was engulfed in flames. The media can be bamboozled easily enough but for nearly every media out in both Texas and West Virginia to be so wrong tells me there must have been a quick change in direction by Texas that blindsided everyone including Luck.”

Again Yancey was spot on with his analysis. Chip Brown, the usually reliable unofficial mouthpiece of UT president Bill Powers, had said in a radio interview last night that the Longhorn’s coaching staff had been told it was Oliver Luck who would replace Dodds.

I quickly filled Yancey in on what Brown had said on the radio.

“I heard that too.” He responded. “And by all reports WVU was convinced Luck was leaving. So the only thing we can deduce from what we know is that the search committee just changed their mind.”

We both paused to consider the implications.

“Committees are strange beasts.” Yancey said. “They have a way of fudging up the works due to the very nature of consensus building. I’m darn confident that Powers wanted Luck. But he gave up the right to select “his guy” when he formed the committee. An embattled president can’t ignore the recommendation of the committee he formed.”

Yancey had a point. By all accounts the University of Texas is one big jabberwocky of political intrigue.  Maybe the selection committee just liked Steve Patterson more than they liked Oliver Luck or maybe they had an agenda that wanted to hire someone who wasn’t as close to Powers as Luck.

We may never know for sure why Patterson was chosen. However I am fairly certain that Luck wasn’t overlooked because of ambiguous answers over how he would handle Mac Brown. Yancey agreed with my assessment.

“Bullsnot! Athletic directors at Texas serve many masters and can’t fire a head football coach without consultation from the president. I get the feeling the process in Texas would be even more complicated. The athletic director is nothing more than a messenger.”

Again the estimable Mr. Stubbs was on point. Rumors about Luck and expansion always fail to take into consideration the role of the president and the vast political machine running in the background of most universities.

“And whoever said Luck wasn’t hired because of his reluctance to fire Mac Brown has a short memory.” Yancey added.

Just three years ago Oliver Luck fired a popular head coach with back-to-back-to-back 9-3 seasons. Luck didn’t hesitate to make changes. He made radical changes that angered most of the good old boy network. If nothing else Oliver Luck has been an agent of change during his tenure at West Virginia University.

 “I’m glad Patterson got the job. I’m glad Luck is staying.  I paused before continuing. “How long do you think he stays?”

“Not that long. It looks like Ollie has decided he has done all he can for WVU and it’s time to move on.  I don’t think he goes out and looks for another job. I just think he takes the next position in the NFL that’s offered to him.”

Before we had a chance to continue our discussion Yancey excused himself to catch WV public radio’s broadcast of the NY Metropolitan Opera. 

I always appreciate Yancey’s insight. His comments made me recall the circumstances that brought Oliver Luck to West Virginia. Luck had resisted becoming the athletic director at WVU and it took a hard sale by WVU president Jim Clements to convince him to accept the job. 

Now, three years later, Luck had safely navigated WVU out of the dying Big East and into the Big 12. He raised record-level funds for WVU and led the fight for the new baseball stadium and improvements to both the football and basketball facilities. He tackled rowdy fan behavior by thinking completely outside the box and selling beer inside Mountaineer Field. He led the effort to increase revenues by outsourcing Mountaineer broadcasts and ended the series with Marshall.

More importantly Luck cleaned up an athletic department that was demoralized and ineffective. He worked quietly to clean up potentially embarrassing situations within the department and brought WVU athletics into the modern age. 

If Yancey is right and it’s just a matter of time before Luck leaves then everyone who cares about the future of WVU needs to understand it’s not a case of one of our own abandoning the school we love. It’s the opposite – it’s about a former Mountaineer uprooting his life in Houston to save the football program of his beloved WVU.

When he leaves it will be because he has done all he can do for WVU and that too may just be what’s best for West Virginia.

Luck has made enemies. He’s angered many of the old school set and many think that a new face in charge of the department can bring these disenfranchised Mountaineers back into the fold when their money is needed the most.

Maybe that’s true. I’m just glad we don’t have to find out right now. WVU athletics are safe under Oliver Luck’s stewardship.